Active and passive voice

Learn how to form the passive voice and do the exercises to practise using it.

Level: beginner

Transitive verbs have both active and passive forms:

active   passive
The hunter killed the lion. > The lion was killed by the hunter.
Someone has cleaned the windows. > The windows have been cleaned.

Passive forms are made up of the verb be with a past participle:

  be past participle  
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The windows have been cleaned.  
Lunch was being served.  
The work will be finished soon.
They might have been invited to the party.

If we want to show the person or thing doing the action, we use by:

She was attacked by a dangerous dog.
The money was stolen by her husband.

Active and passive voice 1

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Active and passive voice 2

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Active and passive voice 3

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Level: intermediate

The passive infinitive is made up of to be with a past participle:

The doors are going to be locked at ten o'clock.
You shouldn't have done that. You ought to be punished.

We sometimes use the verb get with a past participle to form the passive:

Be careful with that glass. It might get broken.
Peter got hurt in a crash.

We can use the indirect object as the subject of a passive verb:

active   passive
I gave him a book for his birthday. > He was given a book for his birthday.
Someone sent her a cheque for a thousand euros. >

She was sent a cheque for a thousand euros.

We can use phrasal verbs in the passive: 

active   passive
They called off the meeting. > The meeting was called off.
His grandmother looked after him. > He was looked after by his grandmother.
They will send him away to school. > He will be sent away to school.
Active and passive voice 4

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Active and passive voice 5

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Level: advanced

Some verbs which are very frequently used in the passive are followed by the to-infinitive:

be supposed to be expected to be asked to be told to
be scheduled to be allowed to be invited to be ordered to

John has been asked to make a speech at the meeting.
You are supposed to wear a uniform.
The meeting is scheduled to start at seven.

Active and passive voice 6

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Active and passive voice 7

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Hi Prap,

Neither 'want' nor 'think' are intransitive verbs because they can both take an object ('I want some tea', 'I think thoughts'). That said, it is a bit unusual to use them passively. You can say 'This child is wanted' or 'It is thought that', but these are not used in a general context as an alternative to the active voice.

You could make the second clause of (i) passive and get a natural-sounding sentence: 'I wanted that to be done a week ago'. A passive version of (ii) ('What will be thought if we are late again?'), however, is very strange indeed, precisely because this kind of question is focusing on the person who does the thinking, and that person is de-emphasised in the passive voice.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by fernandoricagno on Fri, 22/06/2018 - 01:21

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Really , I cannot understand this example of passive voice . Someone sent her a cheque for a thousand euros >> She was sent a cheque for a thousand euros. I understood that should be A cheque for 1000 euros was sent to her . Please could you help me . Thanks

Hello fernandoricagno,

Give is an example of a very with two objects, one direct (her in your example) and one indirect (a cheque). This verb can form active sentences in two ways (I'll simplify your example to make the explanation clearer):

1 - Paul sent a cheque to her.

2 - Paul sent her a cheque.

 

The passive form is different for each:

1 - A cheque was sent to her (by Paul)

2 - She was sent a cheque (by Paul)

 

You can read a detailed explanation of why this is the case on this page if you're interested in the grammatical justification.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sandyA on Sat, 19/05/2018 - 06:06

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is it correct to use "Issue is arisen..."

Hello sandyA,

I think two changes are needed. First of all, we would not use 'is' here but (depending on the context) you could say has arisen. Second, you would need an article so you would say either an issue or the issue, again depending on the context.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by gusanodvr on Wed, 16/05/2018 - 00:25

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Hi!!!! Can someone help me know if my answers in this exercise are correct? 1.- We recycle 40 per cent of our paper. Passive: 40 per cent of our paper is recycled by us. 2.- We select candidates bases on their experience and qualifications. Passive: Candidates are selected by us based on their experience and qualifications. 3.- In 2000, companies produced 101 million bicycles and 41 million cars worldwide. Passive: 101 million bicycles and 41 million cars were produced by companies worldwide, in 2000. 4.- The USA grows 40 per cent of al corn. Passive: 40 per cent of all corn is grown by the USA. 5.- In the 1998, the USA imported $4 billion worth of fruit. Passive: $4 billion worth of fruit was imported by the USA, In 1998. 6.- In 1993, people spent $2 billion on exercise equipment in the USA. Passive: $2 billion were spent by people on exercise equipment in the USA, In 1993. 7.- Australian universities enrolled 600,000 students in 2005. Passive: 600,000 students were enrolled by Australian universities in 2005.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 16/05/2018 - 07:21

In reply to by gusanodvr

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Hi gusanodvr,

I'm afraid we don't provide this kind of service. We're happy to provide help and explanations of our own materials, or to help where we can with more general questions about the language or culture, but we don't check materials from elsewhere. If we tried to do this then we would end up doing our users' tests and homework for them, which is not our role. In any case, we are a small team here and we simply don't have the resources to provide this kind of service.

If the exercise is from a book then a key should be provided. If a teacher gave it to you then the teacher should check it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Amanda on Sat, 21/04/2018 - 03:40

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Hi Sir, May I know if the structure of the following two sentences are acceptable. 1) He was scolded for being late by the teacher yesterday. 2) He was scolded by the teacher for being late. Is "for being late" considered as an object or purpose? Thank you.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 21/04/2018 - 07:14

In reply to by Amanda

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Hi Amanda,

Both sentences are fine. The position of the phrase for being late is flexible.

The phrase is an example of a prepositional phrase. This is made up of a preposition (for) and an object (being late). Prepositional phrases can have adjectival or adverbial functions in the sentence and in your example it has an adverbial function.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, Thank you so much. Amanda
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Submitted by Prap on Mon, 02/04/2018 - 19:56

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Dear sir, Would you mind telling me which of the following sentences you would prefer and why? (i). I have a lot of work to do. (ii) I have a lot of work to be done. Thank you in advance.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 03/04/2018 - 06:50

In reply to by Prap

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Hello Prap,

Neither sentence is incorrect but the first sentence sounds more natural to me. The passive form is more often used with 'there' as the subject. I think these three forms are most likely here:

I have a lot of work to do

There is a lot of work to do

There is a lot of work to be done.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Arvind Kumar Singh on Sun, 11/03/2018 - 16:40

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The goods have been replaced last night by the grocer. Weather this sentence is right or wrong? If it is right then what will be active of the sentence .

Hello Arvind Kumar Singh,

The verb in this sentence should be in the past simple ('were replaced') instead of the present perfect ('have been replaced') since the action took place in a finished past ('last night').

The active voice of the sentence with the past simple would be 'The grocer replaced the goods last night'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by MilaTong on Thu, 01/03/2018 - 15:30

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Can I say "I give him some money" as an active sentence? It doesn't sound correct to me but my school wrote it on the board to be changed into passive voice.

Hello MilaTong,

Yes, you can say that. It is a grammatically correct sentence.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Arvin2017 on Thu, 08/02/2018 - 05:38

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Dear Sir, Is there any difference in meaning between these two sentences : The box must have been dropped. The box must have got dropped. Regards, Arvin
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 08/02/2018 - 07:30

In reply to by Arvin2017

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Hello Arvin,

No, there is no difference in meaning, though the second one would sound inappropriate in formal situations. But there is no difference in meaning.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Andrew international on Thu, 18/01/2018 - 08:13

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Dear Sir I am asking this question to make sure when we use 'by' to show the doer in passive sentences. Eg. The tree was cut by me. The letter was written by the manager But 'the tree was cut with an axe. The letter was written with a pen. In both these sentences 'with is used instead of 'by'. but in this, for eg. The buildings were destroyed by a violent wind. Now what I would like to know is " Why we use 'by' to show the doer in some and 'with' to show to name the doer. I thought 'by' is for persons and a 'with' is for a thing for eg an axe. a pen. Now I know; I am wrong. Is there any rule? Please let me know. Thank you.

Submitted by xsman on Tue, 16/01/2018 - 14:46

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Hello, My question is regarding the passive form of a sentence that is called "to" passive. For example Some locals say that Ali makes delicious food. Ali is said to make delicious food. . . In the same manner what would be the passive form of this sentence underneath? A large number of people will believe that x-league is a corrupt political party.

Submitted by Andrew international on Tue, 16/01/2018 - 06:54

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Dear Sir Thank you very much for explaning well my last question about the 'reduced relative clause.' Now it is very clear. I am sorry that didn't write the full sentence. Now I have aother question. Please explain this since I am not sure what the reason is exactly. 1.The letter was written by me. 2. The letter was written with a pen. 3. The tree was cut by me. 4.The tree was cut with an axe. 5. The building was destroyed by a cyclone. I was told the No. 1 is person so 'by me' No. 2 is agent (pen so 'with') I understood that but for No. 5 'by cyclone' but cyclone is not a person therefore what I was told is wrong. Again I thought the cyclone itself did it without anyone's help or using it like the 'pen' and 'the axe.' Is that the reason? I am I correct or wrong. Thank you.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 17/01/2018 - 07:41

In reply to by Andrew international

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Hello Andrew international,

We use a prepositional phrase with 'by' to indicate the agent of a passive verb action, and a prepositional phrase with 'with' to show the tool or method used to perform the act. The agent does not have to be a person:

He was killed by the disease.

I was hit by the car.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir Thank you for explaning 'by' and 'with' in passive sentences to name the agent. It is very clear now. I am sorry I asked the same question again today (a few minutes ago). Thank you

Submitted by Andrew international on Mon, 15/01/2018 - 03:17

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Dear Sir I would like to know in this sentence the word 'used' which is past participle of use doesn't have a helping verb. Is it undestood the helping verb for eg 'are' but need not write it. I am I correct? The sentence is: Some verbs very frequently 'used' in the pasive ... This is given in the above website. Please let me know Thank you.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 15/01/2018 - 08:14

In reply to by Andrew international

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Hello Andrew international,

You need to quote the whole sentence here, not just a part of it:

Some verbs very frequently used in the passive are followed by the to-infinitive

 

The subject here is some verbs very frequently used in the passive. The verb is the passive form are followed and there is a prepositional phrase with by to show the agent (the doer of the action).

You can think of it as having a reduced relative clause:

Some verbs (which are) very frequently used in the passive are followed by the to-infinitive 

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Andrew international on Sat, 13/01/2018 - 11:48

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Dear Sir This is not about active - passive. but I request you to explain this. 1. I look forward to hearing from you soon. 2. I am looking forward to hearing from you soon I think both are correct. I have come across these in formal letters mostly. But why two different tenses? Can I use either? Is first one is better than the second? Please let me know. Thank you. Regards
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Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 13/01/2018 - 20:39

In reply to by Andrew international

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Hello Andrew international,

Yes, both are correct. The context can make a difference sometimes, but in most cases there is probably no real difference in meaning. The continuous form (in sentence 2) could make the desire seem a bit stronger, but probably in most cases there is no difference.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Andrew international on Thu, 11/01/2018 - 08:42

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Dear Sir Tpoic: avtive or pasive There are many countries in the world which are devoloped and some are developing. Please tell me ' are developed' is passive or not. Thank you.
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 11/01/2018 - 11:36

In reply to by Andrew international

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Hello Andrew international,

In this case, 'are' is a verb and 'developed' is an adjective formed from the past participle -- this is not a passive construction. Here 'developed' means something that has already been developed whereas 'developing' means it is still in the process of being developed.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Andrew international on Tue, 09/01/2018 - 06:42

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Dear Sir Please let me know the following senttence is pasive or not because it doesn't have an agent so it can't be passive but it has the passive structure. eg. Those countries are developed. Thank you.
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Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 09/01/2018 - 17:52

In reply to by Andrew international

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Hello Andrew international,

Passive construction do not have to have an agent; in fact, many times the point of a passive construction is to not discuss the agent or to draw attention away from them. Therefore I'm afraid I can't say whether it is a passive construction or the verb 'be' + an adjective (an adjective that is formed from the past participle of the verb 'develop') without seeing the context. If you can supply the context then we can help you see how this works.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by aseel aftab on Wed, 03/01/2018 - 23:28

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What time would it be convenient to come round? Do dwe consider this sentence in future or future in the past. Can we use would for future tense als?

Hello aseel aftab,

We use 'would' here as a polite form. 'Will' is also possible, but is rather less formal/polite:

What time will it be convenient to come round?

What time would it be convenient to come round?

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by naaka on Sun, 23/08/2015 - 14:08

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Hello there, 'Fast and Furious is (showing or showed) in every theater. Should it be showing or showed? Thank you.

Hello naaka,

In most contexts it would be 'showing'. It is something of an idiomatic use which we do not see in other contexts, so a play is 'being performed' and an art exhibition is 'being shown', but a film is 'showing'.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team